The 2019 Subaru STI S209 may just look like a modified Subaru sedan on the outside, but it’s technically a product of STI, Subaru’s motorsports division. When STI went to homologate the car to our crash and emissions regulations separately from Subaru, it faced one setback: the U.S. government couldn’t wrap its head around what exactly the car was supposed to be.
The STI S209 is a heavily modified version of the 2018 Subaru WRX STI Type RA, which itself was a modified version of the regular 2018 Subaru WRX STI. It’s the latest in a series of what Subaru and its motorsports division, STI, refer to as “S-cars,” which are modified performance versions of Subaru’s street cars.
Until now, S-cars have never been exported and were only ever sold in the Japanese market, the most recent being the S208 back in 2017. Because of the heavy modifications, those cars were always deemed too difficult and costly to certify for sale in the U.S., so we’ve been missing out.
But with demands for a more powerful STI coming from the U.S. and strong sales of the current standard WRX STI, Subaru bit the bullet and certified its latest limited edition performance street car, the S209, for the American market—but it was far from easy.
Earlier this year, Subaru paid for my lodging and nourishment to drive the production version of the S209 around Palmer Motorsports Park; you can read more about that here. There, Subaru revealed just how complicated a process it was to actually sell the car in this country.
According to Subaru, certain federal organizations that have to approve and certify production cars for sale in the U.S. were confused about what exactly “STI” is.
Here’s why it was so confusing: There’s Subaru, the automaker which has sold cars in the U.S. for decades, then there’s the Subaru WRX STI model, a version of the regular Subaru WRX sedan that is, we’ll say, moderately tuned by Subaru’s motorsports division and already homologated for sale in the U.S. as a Subaru. Then there is STI itself, which stands for Subaru Tecnica International and is the name of said motorsports division, which considers itself mostly separate from Subaru in its operations.
And now there’s the STI S209, a modified version of the WRX STI which isn’t technically assembled on the same production line as the Subaru model it’s based on, but instead is corporately considered a product of STI and assembled in a separate STI facility, not by Subaru proper. Evidently that was all initially confusing for the government to get straight.
Homologating a car in the U.S., as Subaru pointed out to journalists in its presentation, takes millions of dollars and requires full certification from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the California Air Resources Board for the states that follow those emissions rules.
Each certification requires individual extensive testing, including emissions testing, physical crash testing, durability testing, and there are usually few exceptions made for cars that are only intended to be sold in small volumes, like the limited edition S209. It’s all a very exhaustive and expensive process with hundreds of tests.
That’s why, most of the time, homologation is only done for cars that sell in the thousands of units, or for limited models that are sold at extremely high prices to cover the disproportionate certification costs.
But STI is only manufacturing 209 examples of the S209 at a price of $63,995, making it the most expensive Subaru ever sold in the U.S., and even then it’s still probably not enough to make up the cost of certifying the car.
Subaru glossed over the rest of the process, but STI reps did tell me they actually had to crash test the S209. It is extremely similar to cars that have already been through the crash testing process and it is a low volume of production, but as far as the government sees it, certain changes to the front of the car may have altered its crash profile.
This included upgrades like the front suspension and new 19-inch BBS wheels and Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT600A summer tires developed for the S209. (Jalopnik reached out to the NHTSA for more details on the S209 certification process, but after months of waiting, it still has not been able to provide more information.)
A source within the company with knowledge of the S209's emissions certification reached out to Jalopnik with more information on that part of the process, though. STI started with the S209 back in 2017, and the process was expected to take around 18 months but ended up taking closer to two years (which is still fairly reasonable).
Initially, STI tried to certify the car as an independent manufacturer. That proved to be next to impossible for STI due to certain rules from the EPA, and so STI had to turn to the Subaru homologation team and other resources for help.
This resulted in STI working with government organizations as a secondary manufacturer, similar to how Lexus is considered a secondary manufacturer to Toyota. Because of STI’s secondary manufacturer status, the S209 gets lumped into the Subaru lineup when it comes to fleet emissions requirements, etc., but allows STI to be listed as the main manufacturer of the car still.
With that, the S209 achieved homologation in the U.S., but it was a point of pride for the STI team that the car be known to come from them—it’s not just another Subaru.
STI executives, including Yoshio Hirakawa, the outgoing President of STI who spoke to me at the drive event, was proud that his organization achieved U.S. certification, and that it would be STI listed on the car’s certification labels inside the driver’s door, which you can see below:
So with the homologation of the S209, STI has established itself, in the eyes of the U.S. government, as its own entity, even if it’s ultimately still considered a secondary manufacturer to Subaru.
But now Subaru and STI have a deeper understanding of importing its best performance models to the U.S., and the government has a better understanding of what the hell Subaru Tecnica International is. Here’s hoping they don’t shy away from bringing us more fantastic toys in the near future.
Besides, the goal of a halo car is not to sell itself—it’s to sell everything else the company makes.